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She’s a model for leadership, addressing big issues

Eleanor “Ellie” Cooper’s compassion for others has made itself known since at least elementary school.

As a third-grader at Murray Lake Elementary learning about how her peers in an African school made do with scant art supplies, Ellie recalled, “I guess I raised my hand and asked ‘Hey, why don’t we send stuff to them?’”

Which they did.

Ellie’s soft-spoken determination has made an impression on AP English teacher Shelley Swift, who said her student “not only has the respect of her teachers, but also of her peers.

“She is respectful toward others and conducts herself in a mature fashion, willingly takes on roles to help better our school (and) community, and she is also willing to admit her own shortcomings and learn from her mistakes; these are the marks of a true leader.”

Ellie will get to expand her leadership talents this summer during an eight-week internship at Kids Food Basket through Bank of America. The internship will close with a trip to Washington D.C., where Ellie admits she hope to cross paths with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ellie Cooper

“She’s been a big inspiration to me,” said Ellie, who will enter Western Michigan University in the fall as a political science major.

She said she wouldn’t mind filling the shoes of Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice to be appointed to the highest U.S. court. She has long been an advocate of women’s rights and gender equality.

“I have the same feelings, as someone with four gay parents, knowing what it’s like to be in the minority,” Ellie said. “I want to be a public servant. I want to be a voice for the minority, someone who can reach out on their behalf, who knows politics and can speak up for them.”

“It’s just wanting to put myself out there, and be someone who can work to make change.”

Ellie credits government teacher Steve Kampfschulte — who encouraged her to join Model United Nations,  an academic simulation of the United Nations, last year — with sparking her interest in politics.

She has been accepted into WMU’s global leadership program, so will travel abroad every year to explore and address local and global issues with community leaders there.

“I’m really excited to be a part of it,” she said. “I want to learn about the whole world. We’re so connected… it’s impossible to just know one nation and their policies with all the global change going on.”

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges here in the U.S.

Ellie was determined to help organize a voluntary gymnasium event last school year to silently honor the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting. But she recognized that other students perceived the event as symbolic of a protest of the second amendment.

She said she understands that her values differ from others who hold just as strongly opposing views.

“You have to just understand that people see with the lens they were brought up with. It’s listening and being willing to be knowledgeable and compromise.”

It’s not about winning, Ellie said, “you might even lose. It’s about learning something new.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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